Amy Himelright, Las Cruces Public Schools
Las Cruces Public Schools is a large school district that employees over 3,000 staff members. Staff members who oversee not just the education of approximately 24,000 students, but who also contribute to the overall well-being of young people by feeding them, coaching them, maintaining safe facilities for them, sponsoring clubs and engaging in play with them. In order to do the hard work of caring for youth, educators, food service workers, custodians and coaches alike must also care well for themselves.
To promote wellness, Las Cruces Public Schools offers a Staff Wellness Program. Those drawn to work in the schools tend to be caretakers with a generous appetite for helping others. This is why it is essential that school employees be reminded and encouraged to rest, restore and be well themselves.
Ariel Amendola, LCPS Staff Wellness Specialist, recruits and leads Wellness Ambassadors who are volunteers stationed throughout the district. They support the mission of New Mexico Public Insurance Authority who assert that, “… a progressive wellness program helps members feel more productive, satisfied, and healthy; all which improve long-term health and well-being.”
When employers create an atmosphere of well-being and build a network of supports for educators and their families, everyone wins. The adults who show up every day to care well for kids show up happier, with more energy and are healthier, which has a direct impact on the quality of their interactions with students. Here are some of the ways Staff Wellness supports employees:
Employee Assistance Programs
Las Cruces Public Schools offers free, confidential counseling through an employee assistance program. Whether it’s situational stress or more chronic concerns that impact the mental health of employees, EAP is available to help through brief, solutions-focused therapy or assessment and referral.
District-wide Wellness Activities for Being Active and Eating Well
Optimal physical and mental health don’t exist in isolation from healthy eating and movement. Fun and engaging wellness challenges are meant to promote the physical, spiritual and mental health of staff members while building and strengthening community. Currently, over 100 staff members are engaged in a two-week walking challenge. To date, these employees have logged over one million collective steps since the challenge began on Oct. 11, with a goal of seven million collective steps logged by Oct. 24. Walkers track their steps using a variety of pedometers and apps and can all view each other’s progress and cheer each other on through an online leader’s board.
Other wellness activities over the course of school years have included hydration challenges, lunch and learns, and the opportunity to participate in group desk exercises via Zoom.
A basic tenant of mindfulness is that people create much of their own suffering by ruminating on the past or worrying about things that will likely never happen. Through learning and practicing mindful activities such as mediation and yoga, employees can increase happiness and reduce stress. Wellness Ambassadors encourage participation in programs brought to staff by New Mexico Public Schools Insurance Authority such as webinars from The Mindful Center. Currently, staff can enroll in “Finding Joy with Mindfulness” for free with an access code provided by NMPSIA. Additionally, staff can experience mindful movement by participating in all levels of yoga with a LCPS community partner, Downtown Desert Yoga, up to twice a week at no cost to the employee. Practicing a few mindful minutes slows the heart rate, reduces blood pressure, and slows the thought stream ultimately leading to healthier and happier employees
Schools are the heart of a community, and staff are the heart of every school. An added benefit to a strong staff wellness program is that as the saying goes, kids will do as we do not as we say. When school employees actively participate in measures that promote wellness, their students are watching, learning and coming to understand the importance of their own wellness journey in life.
For more information on staff wellness please contact Ariel Amendola at email@example.com. For more information on the LCPS Employee Assistance Program, please contact Selestte Sanchez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amy Himelright is the Director of Mental Health and Academic Counseling at Las Cruces Public Schools.